Tonight’s TVS and Channel 4… in 1990 

11 July 2018

It’s July 1990 and we’re looking at TVTimes for the TVS region and Channel 4 on Wednesday the 11th. We’re still more than two years from the massive changes (and eventual demise of the regional network) to ITV as a result of the 1990 Broadcasting Act, which would become law later that year. But the ITV companies were busily lobbying and slimming down in preparation for what they knew would be a bruising outcome. Viewed from a 28-year distance, it’s clear to see the direction of travel in the schedules and programmes.

Things worth noting, or stuff that’s caught my rather strange imagination, are as follows:


TV-am kicks off at 06.00, with Good Morning Britain (no relation to the current incarnation made by ‘ITV Studios’) presented by Kathryn Holloway, yet another breakfast television presenter who somehow became a politician; she’s currently the police and crime commissioner for Bedfordshire representing the Tory party, so best if we more quickly on.

TV-am was at its zenith during the early 90s – it had found a winning breakfast format and was a highly profitable company, which aimed big. In today’s programme there’s the third part of their interview with international singing sensation and sometimes actor, Madonna. David Foster (who went on to much bigger and better things co-anchoring Westcounty Television’s nightly news magazine), does his best not to simper and fawn over Ms Madge too much. But like many middle-aged men who suddenly find themselves in her less-than-forthcoming company, he gets it badly wrong. And lots of uncomfortable looking close ups so we don’t have to see too much of the hotel Madge has been billeted in for her press interviews.

The rest of ITV takes over at 9.25, with Chain Letters from Tyne Tees – this was some sort of Scrabble-like words and letters game that ran for a staggering 336 episodes. TTTV had developed a bit of a cottage industry in the late 1980s and early 90s producing low-brow quiz shows to fill the morning and afternoon ITV schedules. Some of them were even networked, as Chain Letters was at the beginning. We’re at the end of Allan Stewart’s stint as presenter on series 4, which was the final one to be networked, but the show limped on for another 210 episodes and got through a further three presenters before fizzling out in 1997.

Out of This World at 10.00 was an NBC produced sit-com (description used flexibly) with the premise of a half-human half-alien teenager who had loads of special powers. She spent her time causing havoc and then took up the rest of each episode getting out of the trouble she’d caused. It won several awards in the US, including that most coveted of numbers, Worst Sitcom Ever, so things weren’t all bad.

By 1990 children’s programmes had been reduced to just 20 minutes in the post-midday slot, as ITV had discovered the perennial pulling power of soaps. In July 1990, Home and Away is still in the first of its 11 years at ITV.

Post-lunchtime news stuff is followed by a rarity – a natural history programme from Tyne Tees. Naturalist David Bellamy introduces a 1986 repeat called Into Deep Water.

The pre-Children’s ITV slot is mostly filled with more soap and at 2.20 there’s consternation in Take the High Road as Grace Lachlan and Morag Stewart still can’t find the apricot jam at the corner shop. Luckily posh Fiona Cunningham rocks up with a Harrods hamper and saves the day. PS: For all you TTHR fans, I made that storyline up, so please don’t write me any letters.

ITV’s scheduling teams were cottoning on to the pulling power of what is now ubiquitous in daytime – soaps and quiz shows – albeit the quiz shows were more low-key affairs than the ones we get today. A case in point is What’s My Line? – this one is the Thames version, post-Eamonn Andrews’ death and hosted by Angela Rippon at her patronising best. 1990 was its final year with Thames, although HTV and then Meridian revived it yet again in the mid-1990s. As far as anyone knows, it’s not due to be brought out of cold storage for another 10 years.

Completing the soap/quiz theme, TVS treat viewers to a repeat screening of Monday evening’s Coronation Street, before handing over to CITV at 3.55. At this stage CITV still had in-vision continuity from Central’s Birmingham studios, but the links were produced by independent company Stonewall Productions. Mid-1990 they were halfway through their two-year contract before Central took it in-house again in 1991.

The standout CITV show today was, for all the wrong reasons, Border’s Krankies Television, with special guest Sir Cyril Smith. Yes, you did read that correctly – Sir Cyril Smith. This was series 2. That’s probably all that’s worth saying about KTV.

More soap – a repeat of the day’s earlier episode of Home and Away and quiz shows – Blockbusters – are interspersed by the national news and TVS’s award winning Coast to Coast. Primetime kicks off with another of Granada’s worthy quiz shows (did they make any other kind?), series 6 of Busman’s Holiday presented by Sarah Kennedy. Having started life as a Granada in-house production, it’s now billed as an Action Time production for Granada. An example of the ITV companies opening up more production opportunities to independent producers, just as the Government wanted. Box ticked.

Magnum PI crops up in a non-networked slot at 8pm, showing an episode from its seventh season originally broadcast in 1987. Some typical summer scheduling here, as Magnum had stopped production in 1988 and by episode 146 was well past its best. Just shows the long-term appeal of the over-sized moustache!

The 9pm slot goes to Central’s latest attempt at a detective/thriller/action series, rather un-memorably called TECX (I suppose that’s their way of trying to be clever about the word ‘Techs’?), which is about the lives of a Brussels-based international crime fighting team. Not masses of information is available about TECX – different online sites can’t even agree if there were one or two series. It looks like it was one series of 13 episodes with a short break in transmission after episode 6. This is the final episode and it obviously didn’t impress viewers enough, as it was never recommissioned. In fact, Thames were distinctly unimpressed as they showed a 15 year-old repeat of The Sweeney at 9pm, relegating TECX to the graveyard 11.35 slot. Historically, high concept action shows with international locations and lots of guest stars were already becoming prohibitively expensive by 1990, costing far too much for a single ITV company to finance (even a relatively rich one like Central). International co-production deals for this type of programme were the only way to go, and even that was no guarantee of success. Still a show with two television icons as guest stars – Jenny Agutter and John Stride – can’t have been all bad. But I can’t help thinking that it might have stood a better chance in the fickle world of television if it had been given a half decent title!

Post-News at Ten was something of a coup for tiny TSW who managed to bag a networked slot with their documentary about the Soviet spy Ruth Werner, who also called herself Sonia. So, we have Sonia’s Story for a whole hour. If anything about this schedule tells you it was a last hurrah for the golden days of ITV, scheduling this documentary is it.

TVS’s Late Night Late strand runs from 11.35 to 5am the next day. No presenter information is listed, but it gets underway with a relatively rare outing for Sean Connery’s 1982 film, Five Days One Summer. I get the impression that it wasn’t one of his best.

On Channel 4:

We’re still in the first few months of Channel 4’s breakfast news magazine programme Channel 4 Daily, presented from London by the much-missed Carol Barnes. The Daily lasted barely two-and-a-half years before being replaced by The Big Breakfast in the autumn of 1992.

Plenty of evidence of Channel 4 fulfilling its public service remit – The Parliament Programme, Business Daily, Sesame Street, the Tour de France and something which today would probably struggle to get made as a private industry training video – Working Words. This was 30 minutes of expert advice about how to have a formal meeting in the workplace. Produced by Thames, I can’t see this anywhere on Fremantle Media’s sales listings of Thames’ programmes, which is a crying shame because I’d love to see it.

When ITV got fed-up with screening horse racing in the 1980s, this was palmed off on to Channel 4, and a very good job they did of broadcasting it too. Today’s card comes from Newmarket and the 3.40 race is the Anglia Television July Stakes!

Countdown is by now such a fixture of the schedule, it just gets its title only in the listings.

Poetry and a look at who’s going to be the next archbishop of Canterbury – both in primetime. Nobody can say they don’t have choice with this schedule.

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4 responses to this article

Dave Rhodes 11 July 2018 at 2:04 pm

TSW squeezing in what was their epilogue, Nightcall, before their network documentary at 2232.

I’m guessing that Working Words was originally made for the short-lived Open College.

Mark Jeffries 11 July 2018 at 9:11 pm

Technically, “Out of This World” wasn’t an NBC programme–it was a syndicated programme that screened on NBC-owned stations in New York, Chicago, Washington, LA and Cleveland as part of an experiment to screen five syndicated sitcoms on weeknights in “prime access” time at 7:30 p.m., which at this point was dominated in many cities by “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune” (usually in that order, if screened in order). The other series were “She’s the Sheriff,” starring Suzanne Somers, the ditzy blonde on “Three’s Company,” the American “Man About the House,” in the title role; “Marblehead Manor,” an American attempt at British daffiness in a stately home, a wrong-headed contemporary update of that classic American play “You Can’t Take It With You” and a new series of the bollocksfest “We Got It Made,” about two men, a ditzy blonde maid and double-entendres. Trenchant Washington Post critic Tom Shales called “Out of This World” the best of a bad lot, which is not praise. The series is presently owned by NBCUniversal, though, and NBC isn’t even putting it on its digital oldies channel COSI TV.

Andy Worrell 12 July 2018 at 12:10 am

TSW weren’t the only ones to have a rare networked programme.
The second programme in CITV’s afternoon line up (Bertie The Bat) was one of the rarest sights of all on the ITV network- a Channel Television Production.

Robert Michael Fearn 23 April 2020 at 1:04 pm

How come HTV’s variations weren’t mentioned, what if TVS’ catchment area was bounded by HTV’s?

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